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Don’t blame Department X! Why true marketing professionals assume responsibility

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Another gem from the Herschell Gordon Lewis collection. This time the late copywriting great explores the importance of not just sharing responsibility, but assuming responsibility. Don't blame bad results on Department X!
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Killer Copy in a CrisisThis article was originally published in Direct Marketing International in 2008. A collection of Herschell Gordon Lewis’ works is available in our free eBook: Killer Copy in a Crisis. Download this treasure trove of timeless marketing advice.

Why am I contacting you, of all people

The creeping blight of hyper-specialisation has a nasty by-product we have to avoid if we’re worthy of the title Professional Communicator.

That side-effect or ‘obbligato’ theme or whatever we might choose to label it, is the splitting of responsibility.

  • I write copy for you. My job is finished and I go on to the next project.
  • She designs the advert or the mailer. Her job is finished and she goes on to the next project.
  • They supply lists, based on what demographic they think an offer of this type might find attractive. Their job is finished and they go on to the next project.
  • The printer finds paper stock and runs the job. The printer’s job is finished, and that supplier goes on to the next job.

The mailing fails. Who takes any responsibility for the flop? Nobody.

That’s quite in sync with current sociology as well as commerce – nobody is responsible.

I murder my neighbour. Hey, it isn’t my fault: I had an unpleasant childhood.

You angrily drive a truck into a group of children. Hey, it isn’t your fault: Your spouse spilled coffee on the carpet this morning and the coffee had cream, which means it may leave a permanent stain.

Let the sociologists (and the law) deal with those aberrations.

We’re on a professional plateau, and part of professionalism – a big part of professionalism – is not only sharing responsibility but assuming responsibility.

It isn’t all that complicated

target aimThe copywriter who doesn’t ask who the specific targets are, then aims the copy bullet-like at those targets, isn’t a professional copywriter.

The production artist or designer who pleases his or her mirror instead of designing for maximum appeal to specific targets isn’t a professional production artist or designer.

The list company that chooses lists because of fear they’ll lose a list owner if they don’t recommend this one, or because somebody in the office has a relationship with one of the companies whose list is available, isn’t a professional list company.

The printer who chooses a paper because he has a pallet of that paper stock on the floor, when a different stock might better enhance the offer, isn’t a professional printing source.

Ultimate result

Every supplier, internal and external, contributes positively or negatively to the ultimate result.

My copy was too. . . her layouts didn’t lend emphasis where emphasis should have been . . . the lists were used to death on competing offers before ours popped up . . . using newsprint instead of heavy enamel would have had greater verisimilitude.

Or, my copy was on target. The layouts and illustrations matched. The lists were targeted. The recipient looked at the mailing and decided to open it instead of tossing it into the circular file.

Response may not have been optimal, but absolutely and positively it would have been greater than response to a mailing that reflected a bunch of disconnected pieces.

A system for all media

digital print mediaI chose direct mail as an example, but that’s all it is . . . an example.

You say your webmaster wants control over the way your email and home page will look? Oh? Is your webmaster thinking of response or of showing off technical skills?

You say your advertising agency wants your adverts to be in full colour because that way they’ll stand out more, and they’re recommending a publication whose rates are formidable? Oh?

Is the periodical loaded with full-colour ads, so a two-colour ad actually might seize more eye-attention, and has the agency actually negotiated rates on your behalf?

Times are tough. In fact, times always are tough. But we’re supposed to be professionals and we should care about one factor and only that factor: maximising response. Does that conclusion seem hard-boiled, calloused, coldly analytical?


Let’s have more of it . . . and we’ll have more reason to claim the title Professional.


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Title image by Tumisu from Pixabay

Herschell Gordon Lewis
Author: Herschell Gordon Lewis

Herschell Gordon Lewis was an acclaimed direct marketer who published over thirty copywriting books including Hot Appeals or Burnt Offerings, Sales Letters That Sizzle, and Open Me Now. He also wrote and directed blood-thirsty 'splatter' movies which earned him a cult reputation around the world.

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